Friday, June 24, 2016

A Hot Day for Branding

A couple weeks ago I took the kids to check out the last branding of the spring. It didn't feel like spring, it was approaching 90 and windy. About 270 calves had to be processed, and the cowboys and cowgirls were doing it the old-fashioned way. The calves were sorted from their moms, then they were roped individually.

Each calf was ear-marked (instead of an actual brand), an ear tag put in, vaccinated, and for males, a rubber band was applied to a delicate part to restrict blood flow (let's just say that too many bulls are trouble). It took about a minute or two for each calf to be processed. Then it was marked with chalk and let go.

I find watching the roping to be fascinating. It takes a lot of skill and practice to be able to get a rope around a calf's back legs.

I'm told that the elbow position is extremely important.

When the right moment is spotted, the lasso is thrown out.

The slipknot is tightened...

...and if all goes well, a calf is caught. Oftentimes it takes multiple tries to catch a calf.

Several ropers were out there working their magic.

Meanwhile the calves were moving around. Did I mention that it was windy? The kids weren't so fond of all the dust. I found sunglasses a necessity to keep grit out of my eyes.

 The horses are so well trained. They were fun to watch along with the riders.

Baylee kept pulling calf after calf.

It was kind of neat getting down low and seeing what it all looked like from there.

In this corral, a metal doohickey called a Nord Fork is put on the calf's head to keep it from moving during the procedures.

The next corral over didn't have those, so a calf was held by two ropes, each attached to a horse on either end. I hadn't seen that before, so it was neat to check out.

It took about eight hours, but they got all the calves processed. Way to go!
You can see more about moving and processing calves (and other things about ranching) on this fun blog, written by my sister-in-law.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Snake Valley Yachting Club

 Years ago, we joked that it would be fun to have a Snake Valley Yachting Club. We don't actually have bodies of water around that are big enough for yachts, but out in the desert, anything that floats can be a yacht! A couple ladies started it up again this year to my delight. Yesterday afternoon we thought it would be fun to have an informal gathering of the Snake Valley Yachting Club. We brought out a shade canopy (we should do that every time, it makes such a difference!), an inflatable kayak, an inflatable rowboat, some floaties, and best of all, a sailboat. It's been years since my husband and I have last sailed. We had a bit of a traumatic event where we rolled the sailboat numerous times and got mildly hypothermic, and that might be why it was in storage for so long.

Yesterday my husband checked the weather forecast and thought it would be a great day to take it out. I'm so glad he thought of it, because the weather conditions were just right for us to practice. That means winds were about 0.5-3 mph.

The lake water was a little cooler than a couple weeks ago, maybe because some snow melt has been coming in. It didn't take long to get chilled.

But the kids and dogs had fun splashing around. I missed getting a photo of this dog doing doggy paddle--it was the funniest thing, with his head held high and his paws going out of the water.

Some of our friends also took the sailboat out for a spin, with directions from my husband. Going with the wind is easy, but making the turns to start heading back can be a little tricky. Everyone did great, although I did manage to tip the sailboat over! Fortunately it wasn't too hard to get back in.

The kids invented all sorts of games.

Even the youngest enjoyed her time outside.

I loved this scene of wild abandon, everyone doing whatever they wanted. The fun times of summer!

We hope we'll be able to go out again soon, it was a really fun afternoon, and we're starting to get the hang of it. To future expeditions of the Snake Valley Yachting Club!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

2016 Centennial Bird BioBlitz at Great Basin National Park

 May 20-22, 2016 was the Centennial Bird BioBlitz at Great Basin National Park. Over the course of three days, 150 people gathered to learn about and help document the birds in the park. The BioBlitz started off Friday with an afternoon of workshops.

Joe Doucette from the Nevada Department of Wildlife brought Hedwig the owl. He was a big hit.

Later, Ranger Mark showed the audience how to whistle and make various bird songs. It was really cool. Every time I hear a nighthawk now, I think of his "Beans" imitation.

Past artists-in-residence for Great Basin National Park, Miki Herder and Kristin Gjerdset, attended and led bird illustration workshops.

About 35 school kids attended and did their best to draw an owl. Some of them had amazing drawings.

It wasn't all birds--we also had a talk about bird food, aka reptiles. The kids (and adults) loved seeing specimens up close.

The next morning there were nine different bird walks to choose from. I joined one near the visitor center. I didn't think we would see that much in the pinyon juniper.

Boy, was I wrong. We found 17 species, including this green-tailed towhee.

Then I joined a walk up South Fork Baker Creek. It was a much bigger crowd, as it started later in the day.

We saw beautiful scenery, but not quite as many birds. However, a goshawk flew over the group, so that was super exciting.

You can tell that people are into their hobby when their license plate reflects it!

The afternoon included more talks and demonstrations. Martin Tyner from Southwest Wildlife Foundation showed several birds, including this falcon

The golden eagle was really big.

The second bird illustration workshop was a little smaller, allowing each attendee to get some personalized attention.

The kids enjoyed drawing more.

On Sunday morning I joined another bird walk. As you can see by the clothing, it was a little cool.

I happened to be taking a photo of the group when a bird was spotted behind me. I couldn't resist snapping a photo of the birders!

I did photograph a few birds, like this mountain bluebird.

This Say's phoebe was taking some lunch to the nest.

The BioBlitz concluded with a lunch sponsored by the Great Basin National Park Foundation.

Following the lunch, we learned the preliminary results from Kelly Colegrove of Great Basin Bird Observatory. Over 70 species had been tallied, with data still needing to be entered.

Then it was time for some raffle prizes donated by the Western National Parks Association.

One last thing--a group photo! 

It was a very fun event, and now the park knows more about what birds live or visit there in May.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Exploring the New Basin and Range National Monument, Nevada

About a month ago I joined some friends and acquaintances to do some exploring in the new Basin and Range National Monument, located in south-central Nevada. This national monument was designated in July 2015. It is managed by the BLM and is huge--about 704,000 acres. There is no visitor center, no amenities, few signs, and few paved roads (Nevada Highway 318 goes through part of it.) Here's a link to the BLM website with a map and more info.

We had topo maps, 4WD vehicles, and a sense of exploration.

The fossils in the Joana limestone are terrific, with lots of crinoids.

This crinoid stem had a nice star shape in the middle.

The northern end of the national monument is in the Great Basin desert, but at the southern end it is a transition zone to the Mojave desert, and cholla appear.

There are a few homesteads on the monument, including this abandoned sheep ranch.

This is a corral in a different part of the monument, when I approached from Highway 318 north of White River Narrows. I liked the series of mountain ranges framed by the corral entrance.

Most of Coal Valley is encompassed by the monument. I thought the sagebrush looked really healthy in much of the valley, and there wasn't much cheatgrass, which was nice.

There is cattle grazing in the monument, and I spotted this water tank by one of the hills.

We put up tents in a leave-no-trace makeshift campsite and enjoyed a beautiful sunset.

The next morning it was time for some hiking.

We loaded up our packs and started heading up into the mountains. Note the lack of trails.

The number of fossils was amazing. This entire rock is covered.

We were also lucky to see some claret cup cacti blooming. They are so gorgeous!

Numerous holes dotted the cliffs. This one went in about ten feet, enough to get a fun view.

We kept hiking up and up and eventually made it to the top of the Golden Gate Range, the mountain range in the center of the monument. We found a survey marker and some assorted equipment that made us wonder what had been there previously.

To the west we saw Garden Valley and the Grant Quinn Range. It looked even more impressive the next morning with a fresh dusting of snow.

Here I am on the windy summit! It got so windy that day. My tent didn't do so well with all the wind.

We did some more hiking along steep slopes. Again, no trails. This place is wild!

Then we rappelled off the side of a mountain and into a cave.

It looked like we made the first footprints into the cave.

It didn't go far, but it had some nice speleothems.

The entrance was nice and wide and tall. It was fun being in a cave that didn't require crawling the entire time.

Some birds make their home there too.

I also saw some of the most amazing midden ooze that day, very orange. It looks soft, but it was actually very hard.

Later we were walking around some other cliffs and found this climbing rope dangling. It looks like climbers are putting up new routes (but I sure wouldn't leave my rope there, it wasn't that far back to the vehicles!).

It will be interesting to see how the monument is managed. They are currently working on a management plan.

A marker glued to the wall. Maybe this is the Scorpion King wall?

It is a gorgeous area. I really liked the cliffy mountains, abundant fossils, small caves, healthy sagebrush, numerous wildflowers, and isolation. We saw about eight vehicles all weekend. If you go, take supplies to stay overnight even if you're not planning to be there over night, as it's really remote and you may or may not run into someone else. Good tires, plenty of water, maps, and a good sense of direction are also helpful. I'll be back to explore!
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